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Michigan State Basketball: Good, great, bad, and ugly from must-win over No. 10 Illinois

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© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State basketball secured a top-10 win over Illinois on Saturday afternoon. Here’s your good, great, bad, and ugly.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball got a must-win on Saturday afternoon at home against No. 10 Illinois. From the jump, Illinois made life difficult for the Spartans. Michigan State had to battle to keep the game within single digits. MSU would ride a run to end the first half and take a four-point lead into halftime, but the Illini immediately tied it up to start the second half and eventually jumped out to an eight-point lead.

The Izzone ramped up the energy, and it was MSU’s veteran leaders who took control and wound up carrying them to their 88-80 win. 

With only one final Quad 1 opportunity this season, it was imperative for MSU’s NCAA Tournament chances that they beat the Fighting Illini.

Let’s jump into the good, great, bad, and ugly from the Spartans’ win. 

Good: Points in the paint

In what has not really been a commonality this season for MSU, it dominated the points in the paint. While it wasn’t led by the Spartan centers, more on that later, the Spartan forwards took advantage of some early Illinois foul trouble and had success in the paint. Tyson Walker continued his incredible ability to slash into the lane and finish with an acrobatic layup. Malik Hall had 3-point play after 3-point play down the stretch, and Michigan State got it done in the paint. They wound up only taking eight 3-pointers, making five of them. Which means they took what Illinois gave them, in a good way. 

Great: Malik Hall and AJ Hoggard

The secret is out on how to beat Michigan State basketball. When opponents simply keep Malik Hall and AJ Hoggard disengaged, Michigan State struggles. When they are locked in, MSU runs one of the best offenses in the country. Saturday afternoon had both Spartan leaders at the top of their games. Hoggard took command of this team, finally. When Jaden Akins got a technical for talking to the Illinois bench, Tom Izzo sprinted over to him to let him have it. Hoggard stepped in, let Izzo know he was in control, and handled Akins. To non-MSU fans, the clip of Hoggard and Izzo might have been somewhat alarming, but to Spartans, it was a thing of beauty.

Hall took over in his own way. Down the stretch, he did exactly what he needed to do for MSU. On what seemed like possession after possession, Malik took advantage of foul trouble and muscled his way for and-one after and-one. He was the one who put the final nails in the coffin for MSU on Saturday.  

Bad: Defensive coaching strategy

During the second half, Illinois seemed to have found a winning strategy and began to pull away from Michigan State basketball. Illinois began running an isolation with Coleman Hawkins. He either was able to take advantage of the smaller MSU guard on him and score, or if MSU brought the double team, he would dish it to Domask for an open three. Possession after possession, Illinois ran this to perfection against MSU. The Spartans had no answer for the play. They seemed to try half double teams, to no avail. They left Akins or Walker alone on the 6-foot-10 Hawkins, also leading to no success. I would have liked the coaching staff to identify this and put together a counter to this simple play. 

The irony of this is that it was this play that wound up winning MSU the game. On back-to-back possessions, Illinois tried to force the play, and MSU made the easy steals. Still, the Spartan coaching staff should have been on top of this iso play earlier.

Ugly: Center production

Even with Michigan State finishing the night with 38 points in the paint, only seven of those came from Michigan State’s centers. Night in and night out, Michigan State guards are forced to carry this team. I truly don’t think I’ve seen a Michigan State basketball team with such a lack of production from the center position. While the Spartans are normally guard-play heavy, Izzo’s teams are normally anchored by a big who can contribute. On Saturday, MSU had zero help from the bigs. Mady Sissoko finished the night with just 10 minutes and zero points. Jaxon Kohler had four points and four rebounds in 13 minutes. Carson Cooper logged the most minutes for the Spartans down low. He finished with 22 minutes, but just three points and five rebounds. 

This is nothing new, but if Michigan State doesn’t rectify their woes down low, they are in trouble. 

Writer and contributor for Spartan Shadows. Tyler Dutton, a graduate of Michigan State, is a college and professional basketball specialist with over four years of experience writing on both the Spartans and Pistons.

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